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Electoral amendments divide parliament

2023-11-03  Edward Mumbuu

Electoral amendments divide parliament

A draft law seeking changes to the Electoral Act was received with mixed feelings, with some MPs feeling some proposals give the president unfettered powers.

This is after urban and rural development minister Erastus Uutoni tabled the Electoral Amendment Bill in the National Assembly on Wednesday. 

At the heart of the draft legislation is to provide for the general registration of voters from April 2024 to July 2024, ahead of next November, when Namibians head to the polls for the Presidential and National Assembly elections.

At the outset, Uutoni buttressed the importance of his proposed changes to the Act, which he said speak to the bedrock of democracy.

“If the decision-making process excludes the masses, one cannot talk about democracy. Thus, for meaningful citizen participation in the politics of their country and thus the success of democracy, it is necessary that citizens know their roles and duties in a democracy,” the minister said, setting the tone for his submission.

As things stand, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) is unable to conduct a general voter registration (GVR) in the absence of the said amendments.

Section 25 of the Act, which is being considered for amendment, provides that a GVR must take place at intervals of not more than 10 years during a period determined by the Head of State.

“The previous GVR was conducted from January to March 2014, following the amendment to section 15 of the Electoral Act of 1992 in 2013. In that light, the 2013 amendment specified that the third GVR must take place during a period not later than 30 June 2014. This amendment was introduced because it had become impossible for the ECN to conduct the third GVR within a 10-year period after the second GVR,” Uutoni said.

In essence, it means beyond 30 June 2014, no GVR could take place in the absence of, amongst others, this new proposal. 

“In terms of section 25 of the current Electoral Act, the next GVR is anticipated to take place in 2024. This explains the urgency of the matter on why I had to give notice yesterday [Tuesday], and table this critical motion”, he continued.

The proposed alteration emanated from a legal opinion the ECN sought from Attorney General Festus Mbandeka.

Mbandeka advised the commission that “an amendment to section 25 of the Electoral Act provides the most legally- sound basis for carrying out general registration of voters into July 2024. An amendment to the Electoral Act may also be the least controversial approach, considering the sensitive nature of electoral processes, and the possibility of opposition or even legal challenges to proceeding without such amendment.”

Government’s chief legal advisor added that “the amendment could be crafted along the lines of the 2013 amendment of section 15 of the repealed Act, or it may be effected in any other appropriate manner”.

The proposed reform to section 23 (1) (a) reads: “Notwithstanding sub-section (1), the fourth general registration of voters shall take place during a period not later than 31 August 2024 as the President may determine under section (1).”

The proposed update received a nod from Cabinet last month.



As Uutoni was taking his seat, Landless People’s Movement leader and chief change campaigner Bernadus Swartbooi rose to oppose the submission.

It is his fervent position that the proposed law, if passed, would give the President unlimited powers.

Reading from the draft legislation, Swartbooi quoted: “The President may by proclamation in the Gazette alter any period determined under sub-section (1), (1A) or (2) in respect of Namibia, or any part thereof.”

“What a joke of an amendment,” the lawmaker said before proposing that the debate be adjourned to next Tuesday, to which the Assembly agreed. 

Official opposition leader in the august House, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) president McHenry Venaani, was similarly unimpressed by the Bill.

He said the minister should have consulted broadly to take the opposition into his confidence, prior to bringing it to parliament.

“If there is an intent in the republic to amend an Electoral Act, the most reasonable thing to do is to consult. You don’t consult, you rush, and at the last hour, you bring this amendment [to parliament], and November is already past. You brought this amendment based on your [Swapo] caucus, and now you’re consulting political parties. How do you consult?” Venaani asked.

Another PDM lawmaker and lawyer, Vipuakuje Muharukua, also questioned the urgency with which the proposed law was being pushed through.

“Given the importance of that exercise [voters registration], shouldn’t we then make a provision, concrete as we are now, with specific timelines, which ensures that registration does not only happen once as proclaimed before 31 August 2024? [But] voter registration happens at various intervals during the year to make sure that we get the maximum number of Namibians to take part in that very important exercise of universal suffrage,” he proposed.

Meanwhile, another legal guru, home affairs minister Albert Kawana cautioned against the politicisation of elections or electoral processes.

He said as the ruling party, they [Swapo] have always guarded against abusing their majority voting powers as far as electoral amendments are concerned.

This, Kawana said, is evidenced by the fact that most amendments to the Electoral Act emanated from the opposition.

“That Electoral Act of 1992 was amended 16 times. Out of those 16 times, most of the proposals came from the opposition parties, and we accommodated them,” he stated.

Kawana, who retires from active politics next year, added: “Elections must not be politicised. It’s a national issue. I believe, as a democrat, that elections must be free, fair, transparent and credible so that those who are elected must have the mandate of the people.”

“This amendment is very important. It provides our citizens [with an opportunity] to take part in the elections,” he buttressed.


2023-11-03  Edward Mumbuu

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